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Debbie Berlin

Episode #4: From Spark to Flame


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Social worker and psychotherapist, Debbie Berlin joins us to discuss her trajectory into social work, how and why she decided to share her personal story of mental health, the importance of honesty, the inspirational work of palliative care, and so much more!


Debbie has practised as a social worker and psychotherapist for more than 25 years in women’s shelters and community-based services. For 16 years she worked with children and families in the stem-cell transplant and pediatric brain tumour programs at SickKids. She has facilitated groups for individuals with disordered eating and body image issues for over 20 years at Sheena’s Place, where she has acted as Executive Director for the past 5 years. She is also an adjunct lecturer at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. In 2014, Debbie became a founder of Neshama Hospice. When built, Neshama Hospice will be Canada’s first hospice residence based on Jewish values and located in North York, Ontario. Debbie actively engages in public speaking and has presented at numerous conferences including TEDx Toronto in 2013.



  • Sheena’s Place and it’s background

  • The importance of awareness around eating disorders and disordered eating

  • Debbie’s personal eating disorder history and how it led her to become involved at Sheena’s Place

  • Stigma and the worries one experiences in terms of jobs, internships, school applications, etc. if they’ve been open about their mental health

  • Her TEDx talk and lessons of honesty from working with children and adolescents in end-of-life care

  • Starting to hear the term “lived experience” move from the physical health to mental health too

  • How it is incumbent on people in leadership roles, executives, healthcare providers, etc. to set the precedence of openness

  • How, as a society, we’ve become more open to hearing people’s stories of challenges, but it is still privileged in that only certain people and certain stories are afforded acceptance

  • Visibility of people with lived experience as a powerful motivator and inspiration

  • The privilege of listening to other people’s stories

  • How difficult it is to “make things happen” in the world of community health and eating disorders

  • Supporting leadership in social work and psychology by teaching more about business

  • The power of sharing your story

  • What’s next after serving as the Executive Director of Sheena’s Place for five years

  • The origin story of Neshama Hospice and its mission

  • Palliative care, the current state of death and dying, and the need for more long-term care facilities

  • The benefit of faith in grief

  • Growing up in a “healthcare household” and its influence on Debbie’s career and view of palliative care

  • Failure and mistakes are a critical part of our development

  • How we need to trust that little flicker (even if it's not a big flame yet) of whatever personally motivates us to do the work that we do, and keep nourishing it!




Get the transcript of this episode HERE: